It is a cold, wet and miserable winter’s night in the City of Churches. But nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to keep Adelaide’s Tartan Horde from seeing The Bay City Rollers.
After not touring down under for many years The Bay City Rollers featuring Les McKeown, the voice on all those classic hits, returned to Australia in 2017 and was met with sold out shows (with extra performances), super enthusiastic crowds and a lot of love. And as any Roller fan knows if you give a little love…
Twelve months later and Les and the Rollers are back for what is looking like an annual trip down, both under, and memory lane. I said of last years gig that is was the ‘Gold Standard’ of how to do a nostalgia show and that remains true. You have the voice that was on the big songs, they do all those hits and fan favourites, and they play them exactly the way the fans want to hear them. There’s no dubstep remixes, no trapp re-imaginings, no deconstruction of beloved tunes. It is music filled with glorious bubblegum pop hooks, A-Grade 70’s production, kinda raw guitar sounds, peppy beats and harmonies. I loved those records when they were coming out. Bloody brilliant, unapologetic pop. They might be considered a ‘guilty plaesure’ for some people, but I have always been a fan of The Rollers, no guilt demonstrated or felt.
Kicking off with Summerlove Sensation (ironic under the inclement conditions) the audience of tartan clad (mostly) ladies are propelled right from the start. They wave their tartan scarves, they dance in their Roller gear. Summerlove Sensation was released in 1974, the same year as First Class’s Beach Baby, two songs that always transport me to a tropical beach, fancy drinks with umbrellas in them, girls in bikinis, Hawaiian shirts and coconut oil, despite both coming from completely un-tropical United Kingdom.
Their version of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Wanna Be With You, is my favourite version of the 60’s classic (The Tourists angular New Wave version is #2 and Dusty’s own version squeaks in at #3) leads into Remember (Sha La La La). It’s songs like this that the Rollers got critically attacked for, but I maintain that there is a skill in the good use of a Sha La La La, a Shoo-be-do-do-Ey, De Do Do Do De Da Da Da, Shang-a-Lang, Bang-a-Gong, Rama-a-Lama-Ding Dong. It is a reminder of a nicer time in pop, The 50’s and 60’s music are full of these lyrical curios, and I love ’em.
Sticking to the hits Les and the Lads rip through Keep on Dancing, The Ronettes Be My Baby and the fabulous arm swaying pop ballad Give a Little Love. When they crank it up with Rock’n’Roll Love Letter, Love Me Like I Love You Baby, Rock’n’Roller, it has to be said that while they were considered a kind of cheesy ‘pop’ group, musically they were also making great power pop singles. Love Letter could have easily been a single for The Raspberries or The Knack. There is a medley of songs in tribute to some of the BCR’s musical contemporaries that are not with us any more with songs from Queen, Marc Bolan, Sweet, Alvin Stardust, Mud and Bowie. Somebody is waving around a copy of the first Rollers album ‘Rollin’ which Les takes and goofs around with, teasing the crowd by singing a small part of Ain’t It Strange.
Next there is two songs that directly contradict each other Please Stay and Let’s Go. Let’s Go is probably my favourite Rollers song, I don’t think it was ever a single, but it was on the massively popular Once Upon a Star album in 1975 which between my sisters and I got a hell of a thrashing in our house. It’s got all the classic Roller elements, chanting sing-a-long bits, zanging brittle guitars, and a hook you could land a fish with.
At some point Les introduces ‘a special guest’ and out trotts Angus The Merchandise Scottish Terrier dog, with a Tartan BCR coat. Much Oohhing and Ahhhing ensues as Les let’s everybody know they can meet at the Merch table after the show.
Saturday Night has originally been released in the UK in 1973 before McKeown joined. It was a huge flop. But they had rerecorded it with Les for the 1974 Rollin’ album. It was the song Clive Davis in the USA recognised as a potential hit and was their first USA release and quickly their first #1 in the States. It’s urgent beat and ‘spelling’ chorus makes it so irresistible that the Ramones sited it as an inspiration of their Hey Ho Let’s Go chant. Everybody is singing it tonight, pumping the air with tartan decked wrists. Yesterday’s Hero is next, written by ex-Easybeats Vanda and Young, it was a huge hit for John Paul Young and the Rollers saw him do it on Countdown and thought let’s have that one! The set finishes with Shang-a-Lang, the bouncy single from 1974, that also served as the theme song to their TV show that the entire audience tonight used to race home from school to watch in 1975. Shang-a-Lang is packed full of those ‘We sang Shang-a-Lang as we rang with the gang Doing Doo Wop be Dooby Do ay’ lyrics we were talking about earlier. Ace!
Some of the ladies in the audience tonight are screaming like it is 1976 and they are twelve years old again. It’s a bit weird but you know what? It’s okay. Because what a Rollers Show is for a lot of people, is a trip to a simpler time. Before they had kids, mortgages, marriages, divorces or Donald Trump in the White House. A time when they were young and happy. A time when a bit of tartan trim could make you part of a tribe, a Tartan Horde. Friendships were forged that have lasted four decades. New friendships are formed in Rollerdom. Some of the ladies here tonight have been following the tour round the country. I know a few who had attended ELEVEN shows on this tour. Their love for Les McKeown and The Rollers, or at least what they represent to them, the idealised perfection in the love of pop is undiminished. Plus it’s really good fun to see The Bay City Rollers.
This years tour has been longer and there have been a lot more shows and I suspect Les may have a bit of a cold. As a result his voice is slightly rougher than last year, but it is still in great shape and nobody is complaining. He returns to the stage alone and sings a bit of the Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, before being joined by his band for a final raucous and jubilant Bye Bye Baby. What other song could they possibly leave us with. Everybody is singing and dancing and waving their scarves.
It’s top night out. See you next year Les.
Live Review By Ian Bell
Bay City Rollers Set List – Adelaide
I Only Wanna Be With You
Remember (Sha La La La)
Keep on Dancing
Be My Baby
Give a Little Love
Rock’n’Roll Love Letter
Love Me Like I Love You Baby
Seventies Medley :
Bohemian Rhapsody / 20th Century Boy / Blockbuster / My Coo Ca Choo / Tiger Feet / Rebel Rebel
Ain’t It Strange (snippet)
You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling
Bye Bye Baby